Democrats block $1.1 billion Zika bill

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  • The vote, which needed 60 to advance, failed 52-48
  • Democrats had vowed to defeat the $1.1 billion package because it contains what they called "poison pills"

Washington (CNN)Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Zika funding measure over the objections of Republicans, and both sides are trying to figure out a path forward to find a compromise.

The vote, which needed 60 to advance, failed 52-48. Democrats on Monday vowed to defeat the $1.1 billion package that was agreed to by House and Senate Republican negotiators -- and approved in the GOP-controlled House last week -- because it contained what Democrats called "poison pills" inserted in the measure.
Democrats opposed a provision easing Environmental Protection Agency regulations but were especially frustrated by a measure that would have prevented funding for Planned Parenthood.
    "They restrict funding for birth control provided by Planned Parenthood. Can you believe that?" Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Monday. "And the Zika problem, who does it affect? Women and especially pregnant women."
    Republicans argued the EPA changes were temporary and designed to make it easier to spray pesticides to kill mosquitoes. They also say that while funds are denied to Planned Parenthood, there are no actual cuts to women's health funding. The money is redirected to community health centers and other organizations.
    Republicans cautioned Monday that Democrats will be blamed if children are born with the birth defects caused by the dangerous mosquito-borne virus.
    "I think there's going to be a heavy price to pay when this virus hits our shore and women start having babies with terrible birth defects," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican leader. "I wouldn't want to be in their position."
    Lawmakers have debated how to respond to the public health crisis caused by Zika for months but Republicans made clear if Democrats block the GOP compromise, it could be weeks before the chamber -- which will soon break for party conventions and summer recess -- can vote again.
    A Reid spokeswoman sought to put blame on Republicans if the Senate leaves town before voting on a Zika funding measure.
    "It would be a tragic mistake if Republicans give up and skip town for a two month summer recess without forging a bipartisan agreement to protect American mothers, babies and families from the rapidly-rising threat of the Zika virus," Kristen Orthman in a statement Monday.
    Tuesday's measure was part of a larger spending bill for veterans' programs and military construction.